A long-distance train and commuter train at Riihimäki Station on 6 July 2022. (Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva)

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THE RUSSIAN INVASION of Ukraine has cast dark clouds also on a multibillion-euro railway project called Itärata in Finland, reports YLE.

The Finnish government decided last year to set up a special-purpose company to oversee the project under the Ministry of Transport and Communications, following more than a decade of planning the high-speed rail connection from Helsinki Airport via Porvoo to Kouvola.

The Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency (Väylävirasto) estimated a couple of years ago that the connection would cost roughly 1.7 billion euros. The estimate is likely to be overly optimistic in light of the recent increase in prices, according to YLE.

The infrastructure project has been justified as a means to develop connections between the capital region and Eastern Finland, as well as to promote international trade and tourism from Russia. Minister of Development Co-operation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari (SDP) on Thursday said the Russian invasion of Ukraine has turned the situation on its head.

“The Itärata project and operations of the project company should clearly be halted. Now it’s time to draw conclusions, and that means that we have to have the courage to make quick changes too,” he stated to the public broadcasting company.

Skinnari said the issue has yet to be discussed within the government or the Social Democrats.

“Also the government has been on holiday, but it’s clear that the government must draw the conclusions necessitated by Russia’s war of aggression as soon as this electoral term also in regards to infrastructure and connections.”

The benefits of the high-speed rail connection, he argued, have been questionable from the beginning.

“We’ll now have to return to the starting point, meaning the projects that have the best cost-benefit analyses, such as the rail link between Heinola and Mikkeli, which is something industries have been calling for since the 1990s,” said Skinnari.

YLE highlighted in its report that it is rare for a minister to foray so strongly into the remit of another minister, let alone one from the same political party. Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka (SDP) was unavailable to comment on the statements of his party comrade on account of his official visit to Brazil.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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